Just when I was ready to give up on the Pakistani entertainment industry for constantly insulting its audience’s intelligence by producing sub-par content under the justification of “log yehi dekhna chahtay hain” comes Chambaili. It entertains and educates with equal ease.
With Ehteshamuddin, Shahzad Nawaz and Ali Tahir in lead roles, Chambaili is a political thriller that has its finger firmly on the pulse of the public. Set in a Pakistan-like country called Mulk-e-Khudadad (Country given by God), the film revolves around an average urban middle-class family which is torn between staying in and helping things improve in their country or simply giving in and moving out.
They unwittingly end up embroiled in a land dispute in Yaadgaar Colony, a heritage area where a company owned by an influential politician’s son Sultan (Humayun Naz) wants to build Taj Mahal Hotel. The property that is the bone of contention is the ancestral home of Sarmad (Ali Tahir), who lives in Toronto and has come to Falakabad to attend the engagement of his sister Kiran (Maira Khan). The company, called Shaadbaad Developers, has harassed other neighbors into selling off their homes and Sarmad’s home is the only one standing in their way.
Following the family’s refusal to vacate the house in favor of Shaadbaad Developers, Sultan’s thugs forcibly enter the house, breaking furniture and creating a general ruckus in order to pressurize the family into giving in to their demand. Sarmad decides to let go of the house, but his idealistic poet-journalist friend Musa (Ehteshamuddin), semi-idealist friend Saif (Shahzad Nawaz) and courageous sister Kiran refuse to give in and decide to protest the political party’s pressure tactics.
Thus begins the story of how a small protest and hunger strike by a handful of people outside the Falakabad Press Club spirals into a counter political movement against dynastic politics that fails miserably at representing the people who have supposedly voted in these politicians.
While Chambaili will undoubtedly remind you of Rakeysh Mehra’s Aamir Khan-starrer Rang De Basanti (2006), it certainly manages to hold its own. The music, done by veteran Najam Sheraz, is pretty good and camera-work by Kamran Khan is superb. For a film that touches upon such a vast number of issues, Chambaili is very well-paced and all the issues weave in coherently to form a strong plot. Ehteshamuddin is undoubtedly the star of the show, with his brilliant rendition of some really fantastic lines. The unexpected heroes of the film are Mehreen Syed and Humayun Naz, while Maira Khan has probably also given the best performance of her career so far.
The film is also very pluralistic, with the main analogy being Prophet Moses and Pharoah and one of the main characters being Shia. In the end, the new president specifically addresses all Pakistanis, who are shown praying in a church, a gurudwara as well as a Hindu temple. Secondly, on the wall where Maira’s character has put up framed pictures of all the revolutionaries of the world, Gandhi’s photograph is prominently displayed.
Although the film isn’t without its weaknesses, they aren’t so big that they can’t be overlooked. The second half is a little weaker than the first half, because the focus moves on to actors who are admittedly not the strongest. There are two big questions that I was left with at the end of the film. First, who was the politician, played quite well by Salmaan Peerzada? Was he a chief minister, a governor, the prime minister, who?! Second, how does the Chambaili Party candidate become head of state, when they are only shown campaigning in one city (Falakabad)?
Overall, Chambaili is a great, great film that successful transmits a very strong message without being preachy. The film manages to be patriotic without being jingoistic, urging the viewers to do nothing more than exercise a civic duty: vote. And I, for one, am sure that a majority of the audience left the theatre teary-eyed but more keen than ever to do just that.
Verdict: Chambaili is a must, must watch. Take one, take all!!